four days in Brussels

A walk down the deserted Boulevard Adolphe Max, pass ill-fitting, now out of place hotels, leads to the local Waterstone's, populated exclusively by English-language titles but manned by multilingual staff keen to impress their knowledge upon we Sunday strays.

The entrance recalls one of the masses of  remainder-stocked, clearance stores around Tottenham Court Road, but the interior does not disappoint.The ground floor makes for an easy, that is to say, undemanding welcome with rows of recent fiction and classic literature with the itinerant running the additional the risk of being held captive by rows of stationary: diaries, notebooks, calenders, postcards and the like.

Upstairs, via an uncommon stairwell, finds the shop changing into a little bookshop, as an actor falls into character; the reader here becomes a willing hostage, wandering amidst random passages and corridors created by neatly arranged shelves, each strategically positioned in relation to another. The tightly defined subject shelves nonetheless melt one into the other, effortlessly, anonymously.

I am particularly engrossed with Sheldon Wolin's most recent work (and generally perturbed by the pricing of books in the heart of the EU). A woman waltzes by, wrapped up in warmth but still carrying the sting of cold, one that sticks to her winter clothes. It feels as if she has brought an invisible cloak of the icy outside indoors. It burns like a scent.

That's what I miss about Old Europe and its early spring chill.

Further down the road, before le Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, is another creature. Sterling Books is a friendly place - almost out of place in the dour Brussels day. Yet its charm offensive fails: the books are all too topical, the rows of shelves in an indecent straightness to one another. Worse still, even the lazy, late winter sun did enough to dispel its attempted coziness.

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